Bad People. Anti-Semitism in South America -- widespread and rarely explored

Anti-Semitism in South Amerika is an area that is still not sufficiently researched. All the more welcome is a recently published Brazilian anthology that describes the phenomenon in its frightening dimensions, mainly in Latin America.

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Bad People


Anti-Semitism in South America — widespread and rarely explored.


Klaus Hart


Anti-Semitism in South Amerika is an


area that is still not sufficiently researched. All the more welcome is


a recently published Brazilian anthology* that describes the phenomenon


in its frightening dimensions, mainly in Latin America.


Many Latin Americans carry official first names like Hitler, Himmler


and Eichmann. In the phonebook of Sao Paulo one can find, in all


seriousness, the name "Himmler Hitler Göring Ferreira Santos."


Again and again synagogues are attacked; the number of anti-Semitic and


neo-Nazi websites has increased alarmingly; Jewish personalities often


receive death threats. For the first time now, an anthology of 740


pages is available, in which experts approach the phenomenon of hatred


against Jews in North and South America from different angles. Editor


and co-contributor of the anthology is Latin America"s leading


anti-Semitism researcher, Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro, who has already


published numerous books on the topic. Carneiro teaches at the


University of Sao Paulo and is currently building a virtual archive


about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in cooperation with the Yad


Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. In addition, she develops urgently


needed educational materials for Brazil"s teachers — materials that


should have been available for decades.


The anthology describes anti-Semitism in Canada and the United States


as insignificant and hardly threatening, hence it is considered in


relative brevity, quite unlike the giant country of Brazil and its


neighbor, Argentina, that have the largest Jewish communities in Latin


America and are increasingly exposed to neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism.


One can"t help being reminded of the bomb attack on the Jewish


Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, in which 85 people were


killed. This attack and other incidents lead to harsh security measures


at synagogues, also in Brazil. Brazilian rabbis insist that the Iberian


culture is still marked by strong anti-Semitism, and that Spain and


Portugal who colonized the Latin American countries, deeply instilled


Christian anti-Judaism as well as racist anti-Semitism, with all its


stereotypes and prejudices in South American society.


A Luxury Edition of "Mein Kampf"


Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro states that today, anti-Semitism in Brazil


and other North and South American countries usually disguises itself


as anti-Zionism, as hatred of Israel. "But if one looks closely, it


goes against the Jews, it is nothing else but deep-seated, traditional


anti-Semitism." Especially in Brazil, Argentina and Chile, the


anti-Jewish mentality is strong and articulates itself politically.


Anti-Semitic concoctions from the Nazi era are appearing in new


editions. In Brazil itself the translation of Hitler"s Mein Kampf in a


luxury edition is selling out quickly. Since the 19th Century the major


racial theories from Germany and France were adopted in Brazil by


government circles and propagated by renowned intellectuals. "One


wanted a pure race — white, Catholic and non-Jewish."


The anthology contains an astonishing study by the historian Silvia


Cortez Silva about an icon of Brazilian culture, the writer Gilberto


Freyre, whose 100th Birthday in 2000 had been celebrated with official


pomp. In his lifetime Freyre had already been honored by many great


universities of the world — although in his classic Casa-Grande &


Senzala, ["The Mansion and the Slavehut"] he had spread the most evil


prejudices against Jews. Silva writes that Gilberto Freyre never


concealed what he was thinking about the Jews. "The way he describes


the profile and identity of Jews could not be more anti-Semitic." He


uses expressions and attributes such as blood sucker, parasite,


exploiter, ruthlessness, cunning, Jewish nose, vulture-face — to name


only a few. Silva underlined as particularly interesting that such


writing passed unheeded in the long years of its reception.


Anti-Semitic views are still popular in Latin America. In some


Brazilian dictionaries of foreign words the word "Jew" is, in all


seriousness, translated as "bad person." Even officially, the dictator


and hater of Jews, Getúlio Vargas, is still celebrated as the greatest


statesman in the national history of Brazil, though, since 1936, he had


outlawed the issuance of entry visas to persecuted Jews by secret


decree. "We know of about 10 000 rejected visa applications — and


there are still a lot more," states Carneiro. But even worse, many


Brazilian Jews were deported to Nazi-Germany.


Hundreds of War Criminals


The researcher has many anonymous letters of Brazilians with no German


background, who denounced Jews who had escaped into the tropical land.


"Brazil cooperated in the destruction of the Jews; the Vargas


government was complicit in the Holocaust — and Brazilians should


finally realize this." Vargas supported the spread of the Nazi Party


(the NSDAP) and let Nazi instructors into the country, who


indoctrinated students in German schools. "Heil Hitler" was used as


salutation. SA and SS songs were sung. In no country outside Germany,


did the Nazi Party attract more members than in Brazil. Schools, city


squares, streets and even the Plenary Hall of the Brazilian National


Congress in Brasilia are named after Filinto Müller¸ the


notorious head torturer, chief of the political police of Vargas.


Rather late, in 1942, the dictator Vargas broke with Nazi Germany, in


order not to remain on the loosing side of WW II, also under pressure


from the United States; he then even declared war against Germany. In


the anti-Semitic Argentina the Nazi collaborator Juan Domingo Peron,


even today still no less popular than Vargas, took his time and broke


with Nazi Germany just four weeks before Germany"s capitulation. How


after 1945, he permitted the organized entry of hundreds of war


criminals into the country, is well documented and well known.


Even after the war, anti-Semitic policies were continued in Brazil.


Carneiro describes in her classic O Antisemitismo na Era Vargas how,


even in 1949, Jews were again denied entry visas by secret decree with


the argument that these Jews are survivors of the camps, mentally


disturbed people, in whom Brazil has no interest. Brazil"s people of


German descent played no small role in this. Thousands of them shared


the Nazi enthusiasm, went to Germany, took part in war and destruction


of the Jews and returned to Brazil unshorn after 1945, where they


continued to cultivate Nazi improprieties. Only now, much too late, one


tries to track these people down. Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro accuses


Latin American intellectuals, including the Portuguese winner of the


Nobel Price for Literature José Saramago, of promoting a new


anti-Semitism by comparing the actions of Israel against the Palestinians


with the Holocaust, which is absurd, and she observes that Brazil"s government


is much more pro-Arabic than pro-Israel.


The Case of Stefan Zweig


But had the great Jewish writer, Stefan Zweig, not found refuge in


Brazil even under dictator Getúlio Vargas? Of course, in order


to give the appearance of an unprejudiced, anti-racist nation, certain


Jews were allowed into the country: Those that had deposited a high


amount of money at the Banco do Brasil, or those from whose image the


nation would benefit. The Jewish journalist and biographer of Stefan


Zweig, Alberto Dines, revealed the background: "This visa was a


precious thing for every Jew who wanted to escape from Europe. And


Stefan Zweig just made a deal with the Vargas government — he wrote a


book in favor of Brazil in exchange for a permanent visa and received


this with incredible ease. Zweig was not a politicized man, he closed


his eyes to many things. He invented a paradise." The book, Brazil — A


Country of the Future, while totally out of touch with reality, is


still a world bestseller, curiously enough, a classic of Brazilian


literature. Auf course, not a word can be found about the atrocious


Brazilian anti-Semitism under the dictator Vargas.


*) Luiza Tucci Carneiro: O


Antisemitismo nas Americas. Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 2008.







Copyright: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, November 11th, 2008. Used with kind permission.


Translated from the German by Fritz Voll.